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Tourism finds Phuket swiftlet aviaries difficult to swallow

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Tourism finds Phuket swiftlet aviaries difficult to swallow | The Thaiger

SPECIAL REPORT

Having caused problems in other regions of Thailand, the growing number of swiftlet barns in Phuket came under scrutiny at Phuket Provincial Hall last week. Officials have decided to set up ‘zones’ for the business – despite the fact that it is illegal. The Phuket Gazette‘s Stephen Fein and Warisa Temram report.

PHUKET: The Phuket Provincial Office will establish “swiftlet ranching zones” on the island following complaints that flocks of the birds that cough up the key ingredient for birds’ nest soup are creating a public nuisance and health hazard.

Following a complaint filed with the province by the Phuket Chamber of Commerce (PCC), Phuket Vice Governor Somkiet Sangkaosutthirak last Wednesday chaired a meeting on the issue at Phuket Provincial Hall.

The PCC, represented at the meeting by their secretary Surachai Chaiyawat, complained that unregulated growth in the swiftlet ranching industry was harming tourism-related businesses on the island.

Driven by demand from the growing number of Chinese tourists to Phuket, restaurants specializing in bird’s nest soup have sprung up all over the island – some large enough to accommodate many bus loads full of tourists in one sitting.

Bird’s nest soup has been a delicacy in China for over 400 years, largely due to the belief that eating it strengthens the cardiopulmonary system, increases metabolism, can cure the common cold – and even serves as an aphrodisiac. Tour operators specializing in the inbound Chinese market are well aware of Phang Nga Bay’s reputation as an important source of the key ingredient for the soup.

Some of the larger restaurants that specialize in the dish – such as the PP Bird Nest Ltd Company Restaurant at Saphan Hin and another large new establishment on Chao Fa West Road in Wichit – also serve as sort of museums, explaining how the nests can be collected from high up in the limestone cliffs on islands around Phang Nga Bay.

The reality of how the bird’s nests are sourced nowadays is somewhat different, however.

The organized theft of bird nests is a good way to lead any avian species down the path to extinction. As a way of conserving the local white-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus) population, the government has long offered private concessions to selected nesting sites on state land, such as in the Phang Nga Bay National Marine Park.

However, actual control of natural swiftlet nesting areas in the south of Thailand has led to violent confrontations and even murder in the past, with many “influential figures” allegedly involved. The conflict surrounding these nesting sites is mostly due to the price of the nests, which can fetch thousands of US dollars in the prime export markets of Hong Kong and the United States of America.

Representatives from the Public Works and Town & Country Planning Phuket Office, the Phuket Treasury Office; Phuket Public Health Office (PPHO), Phuket Provincial Livestock Office, Phuket City Municipality, other local administrative bodies and Phuket Chamber of Commerce all attended the recent meeting.

An officer from the Phuket Provincial Livestock Office told the Gazette after the meeting that rearing swiftlets is clearly unlawful.

“People rearing swiftlets in Phuket are doing so illegally, because the bird is a protected species. Apart from the laws created and upheld by Livestock Department, there are numerous regulations from a variety of government agencies in place that restrict this activity,” he said.

“For example, if you apply for a building permit for your home, then modify the structure to serve as a swiftlet barn, that’s illegal. It is a zoning issue regulated by the Public Works and Town and Country Planning office,” he said.

The Ministry of Public Health also has regulations about swiftlet rearing, because the birds cause noise pollution, air pollution and can carry diseases.

V/Gov Somkiet told the meeting the birds can vector at least 11 different diseases to humans.

Since swiftlet rearing is illegal, there isn’t a single license issued for this activity in Phuket, the source said.

Despite this, the reality on the ground – and also in the air – is that the business is booming and more and more people want to be a part of it.

Not all such investors are in remote, coastal areas. In October, one woman was given 15 days to remove a new structure built for swiftlets on the fourth floor of her commercial building, located in a densely settled area on Montri Road, across the street from the PCC office in the heart of Phuket Town.

Those at the meeting agreed that it would be more realistic to zone the activity, keeping aviaries away from densely-settled areas and other locales where they might cause a nuisance, than to try to enforce existing regulations.

To this effect, the Phuket Provincial Office assigned local government administrative bodies (OrBorTor and municipalities) to inspect all swiftlet aviaries in their jurisdictions as a first step in creating zones where the business would be tolerated.

“Phuket will create swiftlet aviary zones, after which time all illegal aviaries [outside designated zones] will be pulled down by Treasury Office officials in Phuket. At this point, OrBorTor must inspect and record how many aviaries are in their areas of control and make sure they are located in areas where they will not bother anyone. Until the zones are determined, those making a living from raising swiftlets will be allowed to continue,” V/Gov Somkiet said.

“There are very few swallow aviaries in Phuket. Most are at Laem Nga on Koh Sireh and in Nabon [in Chalong],” he added.

To see how people living near the aviaries were affected by them, the Gazette visited the new National Housing Authority project off Rassadanusorn Road in Rassada.

Building 7 of the 16-block complex sits about 100 meters away from one of the largest swiftlet aviaries on the island, which also abuts the popular Pak Nam Seafood Restaurant on Rassadanuson Road.

When the Gazette arrived, the mechanical squealing of artificially-produced swiftlet calls was clearly audible from speakers mounted at the nearby complex of five swiftlet barns. The calls are used to attract swiftlets, which nest in colonies.

Building 7 resident Sopon Maros, 27, said the bird calls fill the air from dawn until about 9am every morning, then again for an hour around dusk.

“It doesn’t really bother me, but other people in this building complain about it,” he said.

A manager at Pak Nam Seafood explained to the Gazette that the bird calls were directed out toward Phang Nga Bay and were hardly audible to their diners. The restaurant had no problem with the aviaries, which were built about two years after the restaurant opened, he said.

However, PCC Secretary Mr Surachai said that without zoning future conflict with resorts and restaurants was inevitable in Phuket.

The owner of a Nissan dealership in Surat Thani and Suzuki motorbike showroom in Phuket, Mr Surachai said other parts of the south have already been negatively affected.

“Parts of the coastal district of Pak Phanang in Nakhon Sri Thammarat are now so overrun with swiftlet barns that the people who used to live in these areas had been forced to move away,” he said.

The biggest threat was the fact that the birds can carry diseases including avian flu, he said.

“What if there were an outbreak and the Public Health Ministry had to declare a quarantine? The publicity would badly da



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Phuket

Legality of Seastead likely to be tested in an international court

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Legality of Seastead likely to be tested in an international court | The Thaiger

The perceived naiveté of the team surrounding the seastead structure off Phuket’s south-east coast are about to be tested as the matter is likely to end up in an international court.

Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam says that the Thai government has the right to demolish the floating sea home and welcomed the threat of a lawsuit by its builder, Ocean Builders. Ocean Builders is a well-funded group backed by Peter Theil.

“Peter Andreas Thiel is an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist, philanthropist, political activist, and author. He is a co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies and Founders Fund.”

The media narrative has been of a naive couple who wandered into the offshore lifestyle project and then went into hiding when questions started to be asked and the Navy came knocking at their offshore front door.

At the same time the Thai Government has rolled up its sleeves and showed its angry face claiming that the project was a threat to national sovereignty and security.

Some enthusiast local media included the threat of ‘death penalty’ in its reportage (covered in the Act relating to treasonous acts against the sovereignty of Thailand)  providing sensational headlines for international tabloids.

Speaking at a press conference at the King Prajadhipok’s Institute yesterday, Wissanu said Thai officials could remove the floating structure, which is located to the southeast of Koh Racha Yai, approximately 22 kilometres  from the Thai mainland, because its presence clearly violated Article 119 of Thailand’s Criminal Code as threatening the Kingdom’s security and sovereignty.

(These claims continue to be made by Thai officials without any explanation or evidence on how the 6 metre aluminium and steel structure threatens the country’s security.)

Wissanu says the structure would also be an obstacle to marine navigation as it is located near a sea drilling site.

But the company behind the project, Ocean Builders, has announced it will sue Thailand in an international court if the government removes the seastead. This legal test in a court, predicted by The Thaiger, will force the Thai Government to measure its hard-line position on the seastead in an international court of law.

But Wissanu kept pouring on the local rhetoric yesterday…

“The Thai government would be glad if a lawsuit is filed. We want a lawsuit to be filed so that we will have a chance to explain the truth.”

“Attempts have been made to build seasteads in several nations but no government had allowed them and builders were always arrested and legal action taken against them,” according to Wissanu.

From the Ocean Builder website…

“We are just beyond 12 nautical miles from shore. Under International law this puts us just outside of the territorial waters of Thailand but within their 200 nautical mile excusive economic zone. This means that we are not subject to Thailand laws other than those that deal with their natural resources (drilling for oil, mining, etc.) and no interfering with their customs (can’t act as a way to get goods and people into Thailand to get around their import and visa laws). As well as following the law of the sea which prevents “egrevious acts” such as murder, slave trade, etc.”

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Phuket

Phuket seastead will be removed today

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Phuket seastead will be removed today | The Thaiger

The Third Naval Area Command will remove the seastead stationed off Phuket south-east coast today, belonging to an American bitcoin investor and seasteading innovators Ocean Builders.

Thai authorities plan to seize the structure as evidence in a criminal case. They fear the structure will continue to be a navigation hazard if left there.

US national Chad Elwartowski and his Thai girlfriend, Supranee Thepdet (aka Nadia Summergirl), are facing charges of threatening the Kingdom’s sovereignty. Last Sunday officials from the Royal Thai Navy and Phuket Maritime boarded the structure saying it violated Article 119 of the Criminal Code and also posed a navigational hazard.

The couple launched the ‘Ocean Builders’ seastead on February 2 off the coast of Phuket. The structure is located to the southeast of Koh Racha Yai, approximately 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometres) from the mainland.

Elwartowski has claimed that his seastead is outside Thailand’s territorial waters, but Thai authorities insist that it violates Article 119 and challenges Thailand’s territorial rights.

“The Royal Thai Navy has full authority and duty to protect national interest and marine sovereignty in the area,” according to a Navy spokesperson.

Regarding the couple’s claim that they feared for their lives, Vice Admiral Sitthiporn Maskasem, commander of the Third Naval Area, said that authorities had followed the legal procedures.

“We are neither hunting them down nor threatening them,” said the commander.

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North East

Forecast drought will weaken the Thai economy

The Thaiger

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Forecast drought will weaken the Thai economy | The Thaiger

Thailand suffers calamities at both ends of the annual weather spectrum – both drought and flood. But as the demands on agriculture grow, with a growing population and the rise of tourists and development, the effects of these two extremes are becoming more apparent.

Which leads us to this year’s outlook of lower rains which is exposing the poor management of the Kingdom’s water resources. Greater development and growing population bases hasn’t been met with more or larger water catchments.

So Thai farmers are expected to face a tough 2019 as forecasters say the drought will be more acute than usual, lowering the water levels in reservoirs in the central and northeastern provinces especially.

Int eh south, Phuket, Thailand’s largest island and surrounded by water, has an acute water shortage as of Songkran and, without adequate monsoonal rain between now and November, will be facing a water crisis if it has to rely on its own island resources.

The Director General of Department of Agricultural Extension Samran Saraban says the drought this year is exacerbated by El-Nino weather cycle which causes temperature to rise 1-2 degrees higher than normal and cause the water levels in major reservoirs to drop to worrisome level. Higher temperatures mean more evaporation and more usage of reserves.

The Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has called for farmers not to grow off-season rice as drought is predicted to spread into northeastern and eastern regions. That there will likely be a new administration coping with political instability will not help leaders focus on the country’s looming water shortage.

The long dry season will lower certain farm outputs, pushing up their prices. However, an overall farm income is set to decline because the drought will leave other negative affects to farmers who are also the consumers as well. This will affect the purchasing power of farm households, which account for one-third of Thais.

Etc, etc, etc.

Economists estimated the damage from the drought on the economy this year could be high. Kasikorn Research Center estimate the drought could cost at least 15.3 billion baht. Whilst Anusorn Tamajai, Dean of Economics Faculty, Rangsit University, estimates the drought to cost even more – 20-30 billion baht -because it would affect the outputs of off-season rice, sugarcane and tapioca.

“It will dampen the purchasing power of farmers in the second quarter.”

Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence chief Yanyong Thaicharoen said that the lackluster farm income can slash the growth rate of domestic consumption this year to 3.5% versus 4.6% growth last year, in addition to other factors, namely, high household debt and slower demand for durable goods.

Spending power from farmers, according to SCB, is crucial to sustain the growth of the economy. However, the grassroots economy is bracing for negative outlook this year.

There will be intense pressure on this season’s management of Thailand’s valuable water resources, through the remaining hot season and as the catchments gather water during the monsoon.

Forecast drought will weaken the Thai economy | News by The Thaiger

SOURCES: Thai PBS | The Thaiger | Wikipedia

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